Africa 'can feed itself in a generation'

05Aug 2016
The Guardian
Africa 'can feed itself in a generation'

Africa could be able to feed itself in a generation, according to a study presented to five African presidents including Tanzania seven years ago.

Currently a net food importer, Africa has the potential to become a food exporter through a combination of modern technology, improved infrastructure and better technical education, according to the study.

Africa's agricultural transformation would require a shift in focus from exporting raw materials to develope the agriculture sector. According to the study, a lack of investment means food production in Africa has fallen 10 per cent since 1960, and production levels are so low that one third of sub-Saharan Africans are chronically hungry.

In the cotton industry, people couldn't afford pesticides and now suddenly you have new seeds that don't require use of pesticides or use a lot less pesticides. There is also the prospect of growing drought-tolerant crops, especially drought-tolerant maize, because maize is very widely consumed in Africa including Tanzania.

This may not lead to large expansion of maize production, but it may mean that corn can be grown in areas that are drier, possibly as a consequence of climate change.

While some African nations are likely to remain net importers, Africa's improved economic performance over the last 10 to 15 years indicates many African countries do have the potential to become net exporters of food.

As well as recommending improved infrastructure and the creation of new enterprises in areas such as farm mechanisation and food storage, the study also suggests the recognition of agriculture as a knowledge industry.

In the same vein, Africa is endowed with immense fertile soils and good climatic conditions. It boasts of huge chunks of unexploited arable land, presenting it opportunities to become a food basket for the world.

Despite this, malnutrition and hunger are common, with some countries on the continent having to depend on food handouts to feed their starving populations. All this could, however, change with commitment from African leaders and financial institutions to extend more funding to agriculture.

Though African leaders committed to increase agriculture funding to at least 10 per cent of national budgets as per 2003 Maputo Declaration on agriculture and food security, the majority are yet to fulfill the pledge. Poor infrastructure and bias toward the sector have also conspired to scare away private sector players from investing in agriculture.

Banks see farming as risky, explaining why only about 5 per cent of those involved in farming on the continent access loans, which has affected the sector's performance and growth.

Therefore, the continent needs to act now, and adopt more proactive approaches, research and modern farming practices. There is also need to provide access to targeted funding by governments and banks, especially to farmer co-operatives and large-scale farmers.

Private sector participation is crucial for services like tailor-made agro insurance products, and large scale farming initiatives to spur production. On top of that, more funds need to be committed to research to assure a steady supply of high-yielding varieties, and provision of new farming innovations and interventions.

With the weather patterns becoming unpredictable because of climate change, it is essential to embrace smart agricultural practices, like irrigation and application of fertilizers. Agriculture should also be promoted as a business, with governments encouraging the youth to engage in the sector.

Such initiatives will help make farming sustainable, enabling the continent to feed its population, including the extra two billion people Africa is expected to add by 2050.

This will require some sacrifices, forging of partnerships between the public and private sector, as well as promoting modern farming methods.

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